Information Technology: Liability, Plumbing, or Force Multiplier?

I've been saying for years that you can generate a fairly accurate hypothesis about the organizational attitude toward IT by looking at the responsibility for IT within an organization.

If responsibility for IT is scattered hither and thither then IT is likely an uncoordinated aid to other things, probably very inefficient, providing patchy uptimes, and non-scalable systems.

If IT is coordinated then the reporting line from the highest ranking IT person to the Executive Board Room can be very telling.

  • If the IT chief reports to the CFO, then IT is likely considered a liability to be managed.
  • If the IT chief reports to the COO, then IT is likely considered a capability but probably not a key to business strategy (e.g., plumbing, telephones, etc).
  • If the IT chief reports to the CEO, then IT is likely considered a key part of business strategy, an enabler and force multiplier.

I use this rubric as a starting point for evaluating the role of, and attitude toward, IT within organizations. It helps to build an early hypothesis to test through further analysis. I like to see organizations that coordinate the management of IT and have chief of IT reporting to either the COO or the CEO, ideally the CEO. This provides the best footing for employing IT as a force multiplier and for addressing the kinds of symptoms that plague many organizations where there is a culture that hates the IT department.